The Gambia: Death threats against journalists Abubacarr Saidykhan and Babucarr Ceesay

29/10/2012
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in The Gambia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources of death threats targeting two journalists, Messrs. Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelance journalist who often investigates and reports on cases of human rights violations, and Babucarr Ceesay, First Vice-President of the Gambia Press Union (GPU)[1].

According to the information received, on October 25, 2012, Messrs. Abubacarr Saidykhan and Babucarr Ceesay both received an email containing violent death threats signed by self-denominated “Mofala Jato and his team of patriotic killers”. The email thus read: “It is left to you to make a choice. You choose to live or die. […] You […] want to destroy the image of the APRC[2] Government and [the] President Yahya Jammeh. You think that you can apply for permit to bring the Tunisian, Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Libya situation here. I will come with my team of patriotic killers who kill for the love of our country and our president. The police are not the best guys to deal with you. [...] I know that you are dealing with Gambian dissidents abroad, but you will not survive it at all. [...] We will get all of you and slaughter you like Tobaski Rams. We will come for you without any further information. [...]”. The said Mr. Mofala Jato also mentioned that he knew where Messrs. Saidykhan and Ceesay’s respective homes were located. A complaint was filed at the Kairaba police station, for an urgent investigation.

These death threats intervene less than two months after Messrs. Abubacarr Saidykhan and Babucarr Ceesay were arbitrarily arrested, on September 6, and detained for seven days before being released on bail with a criminal case opened against them. The two journalists were charged of “conspiracy to commit felony”, “seditious intention” and “incitement to violence” after they had planned to lead a demonstration against the executions of death-row detainees. On October 23, the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice announced that the charges had been dropped during a meeting held with the two journalists.

The Observatory welcomes the dismissal of the charges and thanks all the persons, institutions and organisations who intervened in their favour. However, the Observatory remains deeply concerned for the safety of the two journalists and urges the judicial authorities to take the required legal actions.

Background information:

In the afternoon of September 6, 2012, Messrs. Ceesay and Saidykhan were invited to the police headquarters in Banjul to allegedly collect a permit they had solicited in the morning of the same day after they submitted a request to the office of the Inspector General of police to organise a peaceful protest against the execution of nine death-row detainees in August[3]. However, both were arrested upon arrival at the police station and kept in custody, without any explanation given to them.

Messrs. Ceesay and Saidykhan spent four days in detention, during which they were reportedly separated, transferred to a different police station every night and intensively interrogated. In addition, the police escorted them to their houses to conduct a search. On September 7, 2012, the executive members of the GPU as well as their lawyer were denied access to visit them.

On September 10, 2012, Messrs. Ceesay and Saidykhan, were released on bail after signing a bond of GMD 250,000 (approximately 6,300 Euros). They were further required to report weekly to the police headquarters. They remained charged with “conspiracy to commit felony”, “incitement to violence” and “seditious intention”.

On October 8, 2012 in the morning, Messrs. Saidykhan and Ceesay reported at the police headquarters in Banjul in order to ask what the police intended to do with the case opened against them. However, they could not obtain any answer, as the police informed them that the Interpol officer and another inspector in charge of their case would not be available during the two following days, so that they would have to report again to the police station on October 12, 2012.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Gambian authorities and ask them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Babucarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan and, more generally, of all human rights defenders in the Gambia;

ii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned death threats against Messrs. Abubacarr Saidykhan and Babucarr Ceesay and apply the penal sanctions provided by the law to those held responsible for those acts;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Messrs. Abubacarr Saidykhan and Babucarr Ceesay and as well as against all human rights defenders and their organisations in the Gambia;

iv. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, and in particular:
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- and Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Gambia.

Addresses:

· Captain (retd.) Alhaji Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, President and Minister of Defence, Office of the President, State House, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia. Fax: +220 4227 034. Email: info@statehouse.gm.
· Mr. Lamin A. M. S. Jobarteh, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Department of State for Justice, Marina Parade, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia. Fax: +220 4229 908
· Mr. Ousman Sonko, Minister of the Interior, Office of the President, State House, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia. Fax: +220 4223 718
· Ambassador Mr. Ousman Badjie, Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the United Nations in Geneva, c/o Embassy of the Republic of the Gambia, 117, rue Saint Lazare, 75008 Paris, France. Fax: +33 1 53 04 05 99. Email: ambgambia_france117@hotmail.com

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Gambia in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, October 29, 2012

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

[1] Among the GPU’s aims are the promotion and defence of the rights to freedom of expression and of information.

[2] APRC stands for the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, the political party currently governing in the Gambia.

[3] See FIDH and World Coalition Against The Death Penalty (WCADP) Joint Press Release, August 31, 2012, available at: http://www.fidh.org/FIDH-and-the-World-Coalition.

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